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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing March 2023
Some Words About Resilience, guest editorial by Brian Kirk.
These last few years have been hard. The world changed so much, so quickly, for so many people. We, the ones who’ve come through it, should consider ourselves lucky. We’ve shown resilience.
Two years ago most of us had no idea what that word actually meant. Now, it’s a basic requirement, a life skill we all need to acquire.
For writers, resilience has always been a necessity. When we started out on this path with hope and excitement, we didn’t think too much about the future, or what failure or rejection might look like up close, not to mention what it might do to one’s spirit. Now, years later, if we are committed, we continue to create new work because that’s what we have to do, in spite of years of rejection punctuated by occasional moments of success.
In our determination to find the light of day, I’m reminded of Sylvia Plath’s poem Mushrooms, although her mushrooms can be a metaphor for many things.
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,
Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.
In recent years I’ve known success and failure in writing terms. It’s part of the landscape of being a writer or a poet. While the journey can seem arduous at times, even futile occasionally, there are uplifting moments as you travel. There are always some poems or books or ideas that you read or stumble across as you work, that seem to chime with what you’re trying to say, that tell you that you are not on your own. And then there are the people – family, friends, fellow writers who can share the burden that you carry.
The most difficult aspect of the pandemic, apart from the serious risks to health, was undoubtedly the loss of occasions for actual social interaction. The virtual writing communities that sprang up as a result were of huge benefit, but I must confess that I’m glad to be able to meet in the real world again and to sit in the same room and listen to other writers read from their work.
This year I’ve taken on facilitation of some regular writing workshops – poetry and short stories – and it’s been a great experience. There is certainly truth in the assertion that the teacher learns as much as the student from these exchanges. I am also a member of a poetry group, the Hibernian Writers, and we have recommenced meeting in person for our workshops lately. These face-to-face immersions in language and craft really help to sustain the solitary writer.
I do remember some workshops in the very distant past where I felt less than valued, and my poem The Workshop, recently published in The Stony Thursday Book, No. 18 Winter 2022, edited by Annemarie Ní Churreáin, is a fictional account of one such experience. I hope my fellow Hibernian Poets are not offended by the poem, which pokes fun at myself as much as anyone else.
I put my trauma on a page,
brought it to the old school hall
and showed it to the group.
Reassured by their insouciance –
I could tell they’d heard it all before –
in awe of jaded urbane slouch,
wry raised eyebrow, cool remark.
When my turn came to speak
I kept it brief; I praised where I felt
praise was earned, stayed silent
on the parts I thought were weak.
That’s just my nature, always trying
to appease. But other minds can be unlike
my own. They took my words and stacked
them in a pile that showed them small,
or isolated them so they looked puny
on the page. One said: the poem turns here,
it quickens on this word that cannot take
the strain. Another said: this phrase is death,
it pulls me from the poem, undoes what little good
was done up to that stage. I thought about
my hurt while others spoke. I wondered
why I’d brought it here where no one knows
my life beyond an abstruse story on a sheet
of paper. Why did I come here? To make it better
or more real? I left before the others could invite
me for a drink. I worked on it some more
when I got home. It only made things worse.
And speaking of the solitary writer, I was lucky enough to be offered a week-long retreat at the wonderful Cill Rialaig Writers Retreat in Co. Kerry in February this year, which was sponsored by Listowel Writers’ Week (see photo of my writer’s cottage). There, in almost perfect solitude, in a stark and beautiful landscape, I was afforded rare time and space to get some serious thinking and writing done. These periods of solitary work interspersed with the supportive company of family, friends and fellow writers are what sustain me as a writer. We think of resilience as something that comes from within us, but the reality is that it is fostered in the supportive relationships we are lucky enough to enjoy.
© Brian Kirk
Brian Kirk has published a poetry collection After The Fall (Salmon Poetry, 2017) and a short fiction chapbook It’s Not Me, It’s You (Southword Editions, 2019). His poem “Birthday” won Irish Book Awards Poem of the Year, 2018. He was awarded a Professional Development Grant from the Arts Council of Ireland in 2020 and an Agility Award in 2021 and completed the Novel Writing Course with the Faber Academy in 2021. He was a winner of the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair 2022 with his novel Riverrun.